The answer to this question is Yes, at least according to Damian Bullen of Edinburgh, whose thoughts on the topic have been reported fairly widely in recent days. He thinks Arthur’s grave-marker is the Yarrow Stone, an Early Christian monument standing in the valley of the River Yarrow near Selkirk. A number of Scottish newspapers have picked up on his theory, two of these being the Daily Record and the Southern Reporter.
The Yarrow Stone is one of the most important ancient monuments in Scotland. It bears a Latin inscription, probably carved in the early 6th century, commemorating the princes Nudus and Dumnogenus (‘Nudd’ and ‘Dyfnyen’), two sons of Liberalis. Nothing else is known about these people but they belonged to a prosperous ‘royal’ family that had been Christian for at least a generation. The names of the deceased show that they were Britons or, more precisely, that their family favoured the use of Brittonic names rather than Anglo-Saxon or Gaelic ones. Liberalis (‘Generous’) presumably held land and authority in the Yarrow Valley.
There is no mention of Arthur in the inscription, nor is there any obvious reason to connect him with the stone. Hence, not everyone agrees with Mr Bullen’s view that it marks the grave of the historical figure behind the legends. Simon Stirling, author of the forthcoming book The King Arthur Conspiracy: How a Scottish Prince Became a Mythical Hero, is rightly sceptical of the Yarrow theory and has his own views on Arthur’s true identity. Simon supports the idea that the historical Arthur was really Artúr of Dál Riata, a son of Áedán mac Gabráin. On his blog he offers an alternative location for the burial-place and will no doubt say more about it in his book. In the meantime, I recommend Michelle Ziegler’s comprehensive study of Artúr mac Áedáin in the Arthurian-themed first issue of The Heroic Age. Dál Riata is also the setting for another ‘Historical Arthur’ candidate, as explained in an interesting blogpost by Mak Wilson.
Another note of caution on Mr Bullen’s theory is sounded by Melissa Snell who, like me, prefers to keep an open mind on the question of Arthur’s historicity. After discussing the Yarrow idea, Melissa adds a summary of her own views: ‘Arthur may have existed — I have never denied the possibility. But until some real, physical, unequivocal, archaeological or documentary evidence comes to light that supports his existence, I must continue to tell you We don’t know.’ More of Melissa’s wise words can be found in an older post entitled The Truth of Arthur.
It’s always interesting to see what local historians think of a new theory relating to their area. Selkirk-based Walter Elliot, well-known for his research on the Roman fort of Newstead (Trimontium), was reported by the Selkirk Weekend Advertiser as saying: ‘Mr Bullen has certainly researched the Yarrow Stone and the various stories about Arthur very well. Whether the two can be joined together is a matter of question.’ Walter’s comments appear in a longer article which can be found via this link.
Historic Scotland also reserve judgment on the matter: ‘The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) records indicate that ‘the Yarrow Stone was set up to mark the grave of two British Christian chieftains. It dates from the early 6th century and falls into place in the early Christian series more richly represented in Wales and Cornwall.’ As such, we certainly believe it is of national importance.’ This quote is from an article in Archaeology Daily News.
I can’t see many people being convinced by Mr Bullen’s theory. On the other hand, I do think he might be on the right track when he suggests that the name Dumnogenus means ‘born of the Dumno’ in the sense of ‘member of the Dumnonii’. The latter were a people of Devon and Cornwall who gave their name to the early medieval kingdom of Dumnonia. A Roman map shows a similar name Damnonii on the western side of the Forth-Clyde isthmus around what is now the Greater Glasgow urban area. If, as seems likely, Damnonii is a misprint for Dumnonii, then the ancient Glasgwegians and their Cornish compatriots belonged to two geographically-separated groups who happened to bear the same name. If the prince Dumnogenus/Dyfnyen buried at Yarrow was given this name because he was a member of a northern Dumnonian gens then we might envisage the territory of this people extending a considerable distance southward and eastward of Glasgow. This seems broadly consistent with later evidence (or a very strong hint, at least) that the kingdom of Strathclyde – the presumed successor of the Damnonii or Dumnonii – encompassed Teviotdale and other tributary valleys of the Tweed in the 10th and 11th centuries. The River Yarrow eventually flows into the Ettrick Water which itself joins the Tweed near Selkirk. Perhaps the native inhabitants of this area considered themselves ‘Dumnonian’ in post-Roman times as well as answering to Clyde-based kings five centuries later?
Postscript: I discuss the Yarrow Stone and its historical context on pp.34-5 of my book The Men of the North: the Britons of Southern Scotland.
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